Alex Reynard

The Library

Alex Reynard's Online Books


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--Chapter Four--

Cody was dreaming about visiting a museum full of masks of all his classmates' faces. When suddenly a symphony orchestra came barging into the room.

Blinking, Cody realized that the music was real. Some kind of cheery classical stuff was being pumped through speakers outside. At first it was disorienting, but then he realized sunlight was pouring through the windows. The music was a wake-up call.

Man, he'd slept hard that second time! He felt like his limbs were battered old railroad ties. It wasn't too surprising he felt so bad, considering that damn metal bar from last night. 'I will not be telling anyone about that,' he vowed.

Just as he was getting himself into a sitting position, the doors at both ends of the bunkhouse opened and Preds came pouring in.

"Good morning, campers!" an overly cheery hyena shouted. He was short and spindly and looked flat-out goofy in his elaborate black uniform.

A cat lady was entering from the other end. Same uniform as his, but with a skirt and, bizarrely enough, spurs. "Rise and shine!" she chirped.

Both of them were followed by even more Preds, wheeling in long, rattly racks of clothing. "Here's your uniforms, kids! Enough for everyone!" shouted the hyena. "We'll also be bringing in socks and underwear in a moment." And like magic, in came the Preds with the boxes of undergarments.

A lot of kids were blinking and just staring at these hap-hap-happy schmucks. Some kids, remembering where they were, had brief panic attacks.

The hyena hollered instructions. "The cafeteria will open in a few moments. Until then, you can shower and dress and leave whenever you like. Class will begin at ten o' clock. You won't be going to the same rooms you were in last night though. You'll all be heading towards the medical clinic, which is the tall building near the center of camp; the only one with white paint. Group J, you'll be going to room 103, Group K will be in 104, and Group L will be going to 105. If you need that repeated, just ask me or your teacher."

The cat gave the uniform rack near her a rustle. "Come on up and get some! Up to three outfits per furson. If you want to wear just the shorts or the shirt with your Farron's Keep uniforms, that's okay. But nobody gets breakfast without some orange on them!"

Cody's first inclination was to pitch a bitch and insist on wearing his own clothing. And oh look, that's exactly what some kids were already doing. But it'd be a pointless gesture. If they wanted to give him free clothes, why not accept?

He dragged himself up to a standing position, then gave his back and tail a good stretch. With a 'THUMP', Kenny hopped down from the top bunk.

The rabbit scratched his ass. "Well, you're still here. I conclude your escape attempt didn't work."

"You conclude correctly," Cody muttered. "I tried. I really did. The dome is..." He sighed. "We're not getting past it."

"Shit," said Kenny.

"How was your run last night?"

He cheered up a little. "Pretty nice actually. I wish this was just some spot I was vacationing in. The scenery's great, especially at night."

Cody nodded. "Just what I was thinking. So, shall we go put on our jail jammies?"

A chuckle. "Surprised you're going along with it."

Cody shrugged. "I slept in these all night." He gave his shirt a sniff. "And they're not exactly fresh anymore."

"Fair 'nuff."

Both boys walked over to the nearest rack of uniforms, which were surrounded by a cloud of kids. Hydra Kensington was holding her shirt up and examining it from different angles, trying to figure out how to make something unique out of it. Trudy was asking with very flushed cheeks if they came in larger sizes. Cody reached out to feel the material. Not bad. Kinda stiff, and with that nose-wrinkling 'new shirt smell'. He decided to take a shower first. Kenny joined him.

Just past the toilets and the urinals in the bathroom, the room curved around into a wide shower area. There were plastic partitions between each one to reduce embarrassment a bit. When Cody looked them over, he saw that inside each stall there were two clear plastic 'envelopes' on the walls. He wondered what they were for at first, until he saw writing at the bottom: CLOTHES HERE. "That's clever." He stuffed his new uniform into one pouch and started undressing out of his smelly shirt.

The water was wonderfully relaxing. Sleep hadn't done much to reduce his stress, but this definitely did. Cody was starting to accept that in order to figure this place out, he'd have to go along with the bullshit for a while. He'd messed up when he threatened the lioness. He'd let the Preds know how he truly felt about them. But he was sure other Preykids had made similar threats. If he stayed relatively quiet for now, he could get back under their radar. Let other kids act out and take the focus off him.

Cody finished washing up and got dressed. His uniform was uncomfortable in the way new clothes always are. But when he went over to the mirror to grab a disposable comb and take care of his fur, he had to admit, the color looked pretty sharp on him.

It was surreal to emerge from the showers and find almost everyone dressed identically. Well, technically they'd been dressed near-identically before. But at least you could tell the boys from the girls. Now it was like looking at a bunch of little heads floating in lava.

He was eager for breakfast now. He left his dirty clothes in a pile by the bed and picked up his book. "Is it all right if I take this with me?" he asked the hyena with as much politeness as he could muster.

"Sure. Just don't lose it."

Cody promised not to. Heck, if he could take it with him when he got out of here, he would. It spoke to him particularly strongly.

In the cafeteria, the sea of orange was nearly blinding. Cody smelled scrambled eggs and it was painful to resist them. But he remembered the rules: produce or prepackaged only. At least until he was sure it was safe. He got himself some fruit, several juice boxes, a carton of milk and a single-serving box of cereal.

To his utter surprise, he spotted Mason and Scott in the third lunch line. "I'm surprised they let you live through the night!" Cody called out.

They didn't even hear him. They were talking to Walter and some frog kid. Cody ignored them for now.

He took a careful look at the room as he walked around, pretending to find a table. No one's behavior seemed particularly different. A bit sluggish maybe. Though everyone had just woken up; some grogginess was to be expected. The real test would be to see if everyone was still their normal selves at lunch and dinner.

Just as Cody sat down, Hydra entered the room like she owned the place. She'd ripped the sleeves off her shirt and added gill-like vents along the sides. Her acolytes had all customized their uniforms accordingly. There were several hoots and cheers at her appearance. She soaked it all up, every drop.

'Even in a prison camp. Wow...' Cody marveled.


Finding the medical building was easy, and so was finding room 104. It looked like a small science lab that someone had cleared most of the equipment out of. Folding chairs were set up. It'd be a tight fit squeezing everyone in.

Lieutenant Vera Delamoor was at the front of the room looking over some papers. Cody stopped to regard her when he walked in. She did the same. Neither looked particularly happy to see the other.

While there was still space, Cody took a seat near the back.

Besides the fox woman, the room also featured an enormous machine that looked like a giant clear tube tilted at an angle, with massive piles of random electronics grafted onto both sides. Nearby was a small wooden table. Seated on it was a young sheepgirl wearing one of the GPA's uniforms. All black and glossy. She even had the hat and boots.

'Well, your species is accurate,' Cody thought at her.

The room slowly filled up with kids. After Hydra entered (gaining an approving thumbs up from Vera), she and her posse sat down, but one of them lagged behind. Michelle the hedgehog waited until Hydra wasn't looking, then scooted over to Vera and whispered something to her.

Cody leaned forward. "Oh, don't do it... Please..."

The grey fox nodded to the girl, then reached in her pocket and covertly handed her an armband.

'Damn it!'

The hedgehog girl trotted to her seat beside Hydra like nothing had happened. 'One more gone,' Cody thought.

Vera had been counting heads and knew when the class was complete. Jayden was the last to enter. He'd ripped off his shirt collar and made a headband out of it. "That's inventive," she told him.

He was briefly befuddled at getting complimented on something he'd expected to be yelled at for. "Oh? Thanks, fox-teacher-Pred-lady-ma'am."

She hid a laugh. "There's one last seat over there," she pointed out. He nodded and took it.

Vera clapped her paws. "Now that we're all here, we can get on with today's lesson!" She was effervescent; clearly excited about what she had planned. "I'd originally planned to go into some Pred and Prey history, philosophy, social myths, etcetera, but then I figured you might not be up for that right after breakfast. So instead, I went for razzle-dazzle."

"I cannot believe sentient beings exist who still say that," Kenny whispered to Cody.

"For starters, this is Audra." Vera showed off the sheepgirl with a little 'ta-da' gesture.

The girl hopped down off the table and stood at attention. She waved enthusiastically. "Hello!"

Several girls in the class said 'Awwww'. Audra was quite cute despite her uniform. She was several years younger than everyone else. Her eyes sparkled with happiness to be the center of everyone's attention.

"Audra, why did you agree to join up with the Great Predator Army?" Vera asked.

"'Cause they're nice!" the little lamb burst out, unhesitating.

This got chuckles from about half the room. The other half thought it was kinda fucked up.

Vera walked over to the weird tube contraption and gave it a pat. "Audra is going to help me demonstrate a machine the GPA has developed. It's taken us a long time, but it works, and we've got about a hundred of them made so far. We're making them as fast as we can get the materials. We honestly believe that this thing can change the world, and play a big part in ending the war."

"What does it do?" Tycho asked impatiently. The gerbil was rotund, but also tall for his age. When he leaned forward in his seat, he looked like an eggplant.

Vera smirked. "I told you its name last night. It's called the Rejuvenator. And it does exactly what you'd expect with a name like that."

The gerbil's eyebrow went up skeptically. "It's a medical device, then?"

"It's the medical device," Vera replied. "It's like a printer for people. It scans you, makes a picture of your body inside and out, then remembers that picture. If you're injured, it restores you to the condition you're supposed to be in."

"...Bullshit," someone in the crowd said. But they'd said it with awe.

Tycho growled. "That can't be possible! Even if it works like you say, wouldn't it revert your brain too? You'd lose whatever memories you had up till the previous scan!"

"We thought of that," Vera reassured. "The machine is smart enough to target only the areas that need repairing. It can even be programmed to change or ignore specific body parts. But that by itself isn't what makes it so impressive. If that was all it could do, it would merely duplicate what doctors and other machines are already capable of.

"Let me show you its real purpose."

The grey fox walked over to the wooden table and picked up a pair of blue latex gloves. She pulled one on with a snap. "I have to warn you, what's going to happen next will seem traumatic at first. It's going to produce an overwhelming emotional response. I know you don't have much reason to trust me, but I am asking for your trust anyway. Just for a few moments." She flexed her fingers inside both gloves. They squeaked.

Vera walked back to the little lamb girl (who was still obediently standing at attention) and patted her on the head. "Audra, are you ready?"

"One hundred percent, Miss Vera!" she said, giving a thumbs up.

"Are you scared?"

"Not one bit!!"

Cody was watching with a hand over his mouth. He had a sick premonition about where this was going. But would the Preds really be so cold-blooded as to do this in front of an audience!?

From her pocket, Vera took out a toothbrush-sized plastic case. She popped it open and held up what was inside.

A fresh new surgical scalpel.

Several kids jumped out of their seats. "NO!" "You can't!" "Don't you dare hurt her!!"

'Holy shit, she's going to KILL her!' Cody thought. There were too many people in front of him for him to rush at the fox and wrestle the blade away. He stood and watched the scene unfold, hoping someone else who was closer would be brave enough to stop this.

Someone did. Showing uncharacteristic fury, Yolanda Denton, daughter of the Vice President, took a step forward and put up her fists.

Vera immediately whirled around and slammed her hand down on a black button set into the wall.

Instantly, Yolanda collapsed. Her glasses went skidding across the floor.

"Yola!!" Chloe-Sophia cried out. She actually shoved past Hydra to get to the ottergirl's side. She and several other students started helping Yolanda up.

"WHAT DID YOU DO TO HER!?" Frank roared.

The grey fox pointed. "Look! She's fine!!" she pled.

Yolanda was blinking a lot and clearly startled, but also clearly alive. "I'm okay," she told everyone. "What did you do to me!?" she snarled at Vera.

The fox laid the scalpel down and held her hands up in a 'let's all calm down' gesture. "That was the same neuro-electric effect I was talking about yesterday. Remember what I said about the dome over the camp? I was going to take you all out after class and show you what it does, but it looks like now I don't have to." Vera pointed out the emitter embedded in the ceiling. "It temporarily incapacitates your striated skeletal muscle; what you use for voluntary movement. You can try to get through it, but you'll just end up on the floor again."

Yolanda reached out her arm to test where the invisible forcefield was. Everyone saw her fingers suddenly go limp as she discovered it. Other kids in the first row reached out to touch it too.

Vera walked closer, tail curling low behind her. She looked directly at Yolanda as she handed back the girl's glasses. "I am sorry, Miss Denton. I greatly admire your courage for what you were about to do." She looked around at the others. "I don't blame any of you for not trusting me. I'm not angry. And I apologize for putting up this barrier, but it's vital I show you this. I told you it would be hard to watch."

Yolanda did not often show emotion. But her usual stoic expression betrayed a world of swirling thoughts going on behind her eyes. She did not sit down.

Vera walked back to Audra and picked up the scalpel again.

"It's okay, really!" the little sheep told the other Prey, her eyes full of sympathy for their fear. "I was scared too! I was terrified! But then after the first time, I could hardly believe it! I wanted to help the Preds right away. I want to help them get Rejuvenators in every hospital in the world. Just watch and don't worry. You'll see."

"Thank you, sweetheart," Vera said warmly.

"You're welcome."

Vera held the scalpel up and every pair of eyes in the room followed it. "I am going to use this in exactly the way you think I'm going to use it..."

All the blood had drained from Cody's face. He thought he might vomit. It was enough to know Preds did these things. It was enough to have seen videos. He did not want to see a live performance. He did not think he could watch this and stay sane.

"...And then I am going to show you what the Rejuvenator can do. Audra, again, are you ready?"

"I'm ready," she said, more seriously this time.

Vera walked behind the young lamb and held the blade to her throat. Audra tipped her head back cooperatively.

Many kids were crying, moaning and tapping at the edge of the paralytic field, searching for weak spots.

"Do you agree to this freely?" Vera asked her victim.

"I agree," Audra said. She closed her eyes and smiled peacefully.

Vera glanced up at her audience. "You don't have to watch if you don't want to," she said.

And with that, she quickly and efficiently slid the little knife across the girl's throat.

There were screams. Two students threw themselves at Vera and ended up thudding to the floor, unmoving. Girls and boys alike were crying their eyes out. The blood was redder than they could have imagined, and there was so much of it. Frank snatched up her chair, planning to throw it, but the zebra couldn't figure out how to without whacking a classmate.

Vera had quickly grabbed a nearby plastic bag. It was clear green and had a curved plastic opening at one end. The vixen held it over Audra's spurting wound and fiddled with some straps to secure it in place. She caressed the girl's headfur soothingly. "Almost over. It's almost over. You're being so brave," she whispered.

Cody was slumped against the back wall. He didn't think he'd ever be able to close his eyes again. He was in shock, plain and simple. The horror of what he'd just witnessed, combined with his failure to prevent it, had rendered him every bit as paralyzed as the wiredome had.

Vera waited until Audra's bloodflow weakened some. The bag was nearly full. The sound of blood spurting inside, making the plastic crinkle, was absolutely skin-crawling. The little lamb was completely limp now, held up only by Vera's other arm.

The fox plucked her Talkcard from her jacket pocket and used its walkie-talkie function. "Now, please."

A tabby in a nurse's uniform entered. Well, sort of a nurse's uniform, except for the fact that it was made of red rubber. A hand went to her mouth when she saw all the blood. "Oh geeze..."

"Need some help, Kady." Vera nodded towards the Rejuvenator and the nursecat nodded back. She crossed the room and started operating a control panel. The Rejuvenator's tube part split in half with a hydraulic hiss, opening like a clam.

Vera was clearly holding back her emotions as she listened to Audra's blood pour out with progressively quieter splashes. Cradling the girl tenderly in one arm, she lifted her head towards the shocked, silent faces of her students.

"Audra is now dead." She turned to her colleague. "Kady? Microphone, please."

The nursecat picked up a small black box with a stethoscope tube attached and brought it over. She pressed the metal disc to the girl's chest. Silence.

No one spoke as the fox and feline lifted the dead girl and carried her to the Rejuvenator. They laid her down inside; it was slightly diagonal and padded for comfort. Kady returned to the controls and closed the lid. She keyed in some commands, producing some beeps and a hum.

'It's like watching a magic trick,' Cody thought numbly. 'The sickest, most evil magic trick ever. They kill a kid in front of our eyes, and expect us to believe that by putting her in a magic box, she'll come back to life.'

"This won't take long," Vera said. She opened a hatch on the side of the machine and placed the bag of blood inside. "The machine doesn't have much to repair. If you'll look closely, you can actually see it happening. In fact," she hesitated a moment, "I'm going to lower the neuro-electric field now so you can watch."

Her hand trembled as she reached for the black button. But she knew pressing it was the right thing to do, so she did.

Immediately, chairs screeched as the kids shoved them away. They clustered around the Rejuvenator machine, looking in at the stone-still girl inside.

Kenny walked slowly over to Vera with tears in his eyes. Cody realized it was the first time he'd ever seen his friend cry. "If she stays dead, you don't leave this room alive," the rabbit said in a cracked voice.

Vera gulped, then nodded acceptance. "If she doesn't, I won't fight back," she replied sincerely.

"LOOK! HER THROAT!!" Tycho suddenly screamed.

Both boys turned and ran over to the machine. The students had crammed themselves in like sardines around it, so Kenny and Cody had to jump to see over them.

Inside the machine, a number of tiny arms were probing around inside Audra's wound. Two of them had hoses attached, and they seemed to be pumping blood back into her body. What Tycho had noticed was that two needle-thin robotic devices were seemingly erasing her wound.

The kids gasped and stared as Audra was made whole again right before their eyes.

"Heartbeat's starting back up," Kady announced.

A smile of relief broke over Vera's face. "Excellent! You can go tell Jared to come up then."

The nursecat nodded to her, then struggled to squeeze past the crowd of gawking Preykids. She gave Vera a quick co-worker hug. "It always works, but it always scares the crap out of you until it does, doesn't it?"

The vixen nodded. "Absolutely." She'd tossed the scalpel in a plastic box with a biohazard symbol on it, then added her gloves. Kady took the box with her when she left.

Cody couldn't believe it. Could Not Believe It. Technology like this was impossible. It had to be a trick. Some elaborate illusion. No one could reverse death. No machine was capable of-

Audra's eyes opened.

A moment later, so did the Rejuvenator. Students jumped out of the way as the tube-half swung slowly open.

Inside was one perfectly alive little lamb with the biggest smile in the world on her face. "See!? It worked!!!"

Gasps of relief and astonishment rang out. Audra was swallowed up in a tidal wave of hugs

Cody took a shaky step backwards, hand covering his mouth. He was completely unable to deal with this. This was like watching reality unravel itself. He kept backing away from the sight of his classmates crowding around the lambgirl, asking her questions and touching her to see if she was real. His mind completely rejected what it was seeing.

He nearly bumped into Vera. "Look out," she cautioned.

He whirled around. "If this is a trick..." he hissed.

The look in the boy's eyes was pure venomous malice. Vera renewed her promise to not underestimate this kid. "I promise it isn't! If you won't, or can't, believe me, then you can come back here after lunch and I will get in that machine myself and let you cut my throat."

The mere fact that she'd say such a thing sobered Cody. "You can't be serious."

She straightened up a little. "I wouldn't have taken this position if I was afraid to do whatever it takes to show the world we have a better way."

Cody was beginning to get the feeling that this whole thing was more than just a simple honey trap. These Preds believed their line. It wasn't just con men he was dealing with. These were fanatics. And they seemingly had magic on their side. Cody pointed behind him at the machine. "How does it work? How can it possibly work!?"

"If you'll be patient a few more moments, you can ask the inventor yourself," she replied.

Still feeling the fur on the back of his neck standing up, Cody turned away from her, towards the sheep girl.

"Five times!" she cheerfully answered Yolanda's question. "I love volunteering for this!"

"But why!?" someone asked.

"Because I think it's important," Audra said. "I think about all the people we can save now."

"But... dying!? You let her slash your throat with a razor five times!?" Frank sputtered.

"A scalpel, actually," the girl smugly corrected. "It doesn't hurt. Maybe it stings a little. Then when all my blood comes out, that part is a little scary, yeah. But it gets easier every time. The best part is when these little sparkles start popping up all over my vision just before I black out. It looks like fireworks! Then all of a sudden I'm waking up in the Rejuvenator again, safe and sound!"

Tycho was about to ask another question when someone knocked on the door with what sounded like something metal.

Vera dashed to the door. "Everyone! I'd like to introduce a special guest: Mr. Jared Ravensfire, the inventor of the Rejuvenator!"

She flung open the door, and what wobbled into the room then made nearly everyone suppress a snort of laughter.

He was the most unthreatening Pred any of them had ever seen. He was a rust-colored red fox, hobbling along on two gleaming forearm crutches. He was young, barely on the edge of twenty. His plaid shirt and twig-skinny frame made many of the Preykids think of a scarecrow.

Jared brushed his mop of brown hair out of his eyes. "Hi, kids!" he said in a cutely nasal voice.

"You're joking," Hydra said flatly.

Jared straightened up as best he could. He spoke quick and lively. "If you're referring to me being the inventor of that device which you've just seen in action, then it's no joke. My plans built that sucker."

Vera spoke up towards the class. "How about you all return to your seats and then you can ask Mr. Ravensfire any questions you might have?"

The Preykids obeyed her. They were too drained from their emotional rollercoaster ride to do much else.

Cody and Tycho both put their hands up. "How does it work!?" they shouted near-simultaneously.

Vera gave Jared room to back up and brace himself against the wooden table. He started unstrapping his crutches and Audra helpfully took them from him. "Thanks, cutiehooves."

The sheepette grinned sweetly at him, then left to go sit in the corner for the remainder of classtime. She'd earned a break.

Jared looked back at Cody. "I got recruited by the GPA while I was still in college. I'd started getting some attention for my theories, but it was mostly people angrily telling me why they wouldn't work. I'm a 'big picture' thinker. While a lot of people who study medicine specialize in a single area, I wanted to know everything about everything."

He pointed to his legs. "I broke these as a kid. The accident gave me plenty of time to sit in bed and read. So I read medical books. I wanted to fix myself." He chuckled. "Ironically, I ended up making a machine that'll do everything but. The Rejuvenator only works with what it's given; it can't 'think' enough to repair what your body's already healed from. Short-term booboos only. Hence, why I still got these," he said, indicating the crutches.

With obvious difficulty, and also obvious practice, Jared walked over to the Rejuvenator taking tiny, careful steps. "Inventing it didn't really take any kind of supergeniusness on my part. I just looked at all the brightest breakthroughs in medical technology and thought, 'Why does it all have to be separate machines? That's so inefficient. Why not one machine that does everything?' So I started designing. I took concepts from everywhere. Not just medtech, but anything even slightly related to what I wanted. I looked into assembly plants that used micro-robotics to build mind-bogglingly tiny things. I looked into 3D printing technology. I looked into cell regeneration. All of it came together in this." He patted his machine and it gave a hollow 'whump'.

"Sensors inside 'read' every inch of you. Everything that can be recorded, is. It extrapolates what about you is healthy and what needs to be changed. It knows how to prioritize. For instance: it might notice you have an unhealthy cholesterol level, but it'll take care of a shotgun wound first. It can compare your injury to a previous bodyscan, or if it's your first time in one, make educated guesses as to what it needs to do. Because it can see everything, it can know on a far deeper level than any doctor exactly what needs to be done to get you up and running again."

"Wouldn't this thing put a lot of doctors out of business?" someone asked.

"Yes," Jared admitted. "But of the ones I've asked, they all say it's worth it."

Tycho raised his hand. A scowl was etched onto his face; a desperate need to understand. "But how can it reverse death!? We saw her throat get cut. We saw the machine sew her back up. But closing a wound and replacing blood doesn't magically bring someone back to life!"

Jared nodded in respect to Tycho's question. "You have to get dispassionate. You have to stop thinking of life and death in emotional terms, and think of the body as no different from a machine. We know how to fix a car that's stopped running. We know how to restart a crashed computer. Up til now, restarting a furson has been simply too complex a task for us to understand how it's possible. Too many things have to happen all at once. Impossibly small repairs. The right chemicals at exactly the right time in exactly the right place.

"You only saw the robot arms that fixed Audra's throat. You probably didn't notice the ones that poked into her back and spine. They took readings of her heart, lungs and brain and extrapolated exactly what was needed to start her working again. Then it was just a matter of, well... hot-wiring her."

A few students laughed at such a blunt comparison.

Tycho was rapt. "What's the longest time?" he asked breathlessly.

Jared smiled, knowing by the boy's expression exactly what he meant. "We've done a lot of experiments. I've volunteered for some of the most dangerous ones myself, because I wouldn't let my friends risk themselves. One time I inhaled helium until I asphyxiated. Don't laugh; your body can't tell the difference between it and air, so it's a surprisingly easy way to commit suicide. Anyway, I died. I ordered my staff to wait thirty minutes. It seemed like only a few seconds to me before I was waking up inside the machine."

The fox smiled a perfect mad scientist's smile. "From then on, it was just a contest of going longer. We had thought three hours was the maximum limit. Then we got a call from the nearby hospital where one of my friends was working. Paramedics had just brought in a fisherman who'd fallen out of a boat and been trapped under the ice for four hours. It took another sixty minutes for him to be rescued, taken to the hospital, pronounced dead as a doornail and then brought to us because, hey, why not?

"We pushed our prototype so far past its limits we ruined it. We drove it into the ground. We practically melted that poor thing."

Jared paused dramatically.

"His son still has a father today."

Several students started applauding.

Jared took a few more questions and answered them to the best of his ability. Not surprisingly, many kids still couldn't bring themselves to believe that the Rejuvenator was really real. Jared said he'd be here all week working on improvements to it and anyone who was interested was welcome to come by and watch it being tested. Tycho practically floated when he said that.

Soon though, Kady knocked on the door and poked her head in. "L Group's ready," she stage-whispered.

"That's my cue, sorry," Jared told everyone. "Another cute little brave volunteer just got resurrected and now I've gotta go help pick all of those kids' jaws off the floor."

Vera handed the fox his crutches. "Can we get a round of applause for Mr Ravensfire?"

Jared smiled at everyone as they clapped. Cody was surprised to find himself clapping along with them. He had to admit, Pred or not, if this wasn't all just a gigantic, heartless hoax, then this man deserved all the praise anyone could give.

The rusty young fox wobbled himself to the door and gave the Preykids a last wave before he left. "Remember; stay in school! Maybe you'll grow up to cure death too!"

Vera rested her tush on the wooden table and waited for her students to stop buzzing amongst themselves. She cleared her throat and addressed them. "I apologize again for the shock of watching Audra die. But we have to be shocking. We understand how resistant people can be to new ideas. So sometimes it's necessary to ram them through using the most brutal, undeniable proof possible. We believe that sometimes we have to confront people with their worst fears, in order to show them that those fears are unfounded. Still, if any of you have nightmares tonight, I genuinely am sorry."

"I probably will," Trudy admitted. "When you took out that knife, I just about felt my heart stop!"

"Hey, no prob: this thing'd fix it!" Jayden said.

That lightened the room's mood a bit more. Vera was very glad to see no obvious signs of trauma from any of them. 'Maybe desensitization to violence through the media can be a good thing sometimes,' she considered.

Tycho's hand was up again. "Sorry if you don't know this, but what if... Like, what if you're not all there when you get put inside? It can't regrow a limb, can it?"

"Actually, I can answer that," Vera replied. "Remember when I put the bag of blood in that side hatch?"

Several kids 'eww'ed at the mental image.

"That was important, because obviously the machine can't make matter from nothing. But it can make matter from similar matter. Inside it, each Rejuvenator needs a supply of, well, meat. Plus blood, bone and a few other natural materials. One of the things Jared's been working hardest on is a way to make the machine accept any kind of organic matter. I may not know how in the heck it can do this, but I do know that, essentially, it can somehow 'blank' the DNA of whatever raw materials you put into it. So if you need a limb regrown, it can take a chunk of meat of equal mass, rewrite it with your DNA, and create a perfect replacement that your body won't reject."

Tycho looked like he'd just got done having insane, exhausting sex. "Fascinating..." he breathed.

Vera remembered her notes. "There's something else I wanted to talk about. The medical applications of the Rejuvenator are obvious. But there's another area of society that this machine will change forever. Can you guess which?"

Several blank looks. Other students tried their hardest to puzzle it out.

Surprisingly, it was Trudy who cracked the answer. She shyly held up her hand. "Meat processing?"

A stunned grin spread across Vera's muzzle. "Very good! And why's that?"

"Because, well..." The pig girl fidgeted, unsure of her idea. "If, if the Rejuvenator can regrow parts like you said, then that made me think of when you Predators... well, when you... eat us. But am I right that, if you had one of those, you could cut an arm or a leg off and... and then you could eat it but the Prey wouldn't have to lose it or die?"

Stunned silence. From every single student.

Every single one of them realized how much Trudy's idea, if true, could change everything in both societies forever.

"Yes, Trudy," Vera said. "I am endlessly proud of you for figuring that out."

The piggygirl squirmed in her seat, smiling and blushing.

Vera's foxtail wagged. "She's exactly right. With this machine, the war can end. This is what I meant yesterday when I said that if we can't stop our natural instincts, we can find ways around them. If I can't stop my society from preying on yours, then at least I can help take death, permanence and loss out of that equation."

She began to pace. "Our biggest problem now is efficiency. The Rejuvenator works, but it's slow, it's hard to build, and it uses a whopperload of power. All those problems are solvable with more research and more money, which we can't get if we're hiding in the woods under a wiredome. We need corporate and government support. From both sides. We can't get that until the war ends. Sometimes you can end a fight by introducing a common enemy. But other times you can end it by adding a common goal."

Vera smiled hopefully. "Both sides want to save lives. We can give that to them. We can give that to everyone eventually."

Yolanda's hand went up. "Let me make sure I understand. In the future you're hoping for, the Preds would have meat factories filled with Rejuvenators. Prey would be taken there and killed, like with nonevs, instead of each Pred citizen hunting for the sake of their own families?"

Vera nodded. "That's about right."

"Who would volunteer for that though!?" the otter asked. The idea made her a little queasy.

Vera sighed. "That, unfortunately, I can't answer right now, because I don't have time to get into the whole context of the answer. But I will. If not in today's next class, then tomorrow's for sure."

"I'd like an answer now," Kenny piped up. He was obviously even more unsettled by Yolanda's idea. "You're basically saying that your wonderful new world is one where Preys get kidnapped, killed for meat, then a machine just resets them and they go home and everything's happy!?"

Vera spoke evenly, "Even if all that were true, exactly as you said, isn't it still better than how things are now?"

That shut Kenny up.

He tried to find a way to say 'no', but he couldn't. His emotions raged against the idea, but his reason couldn't refute it. He did come up with another objection though. "But what if the Preds don't let them go afterwards? What if they just keep them in the factories, killing them over and over and over?"

"We would definitely make sure there were laws against anything like that," Vera said.

Tycho turned around in his seat to face the rabbitboy, "And you could still make the argument that that's better than what we've got. I'm not saying I know for sure whether it'd be worse to get enslaved and killed repeatedly, or to have my consciousness not exist anymore forever. But the fact that I can't answer that question is, I think, important in and of itself."

"Thank you, Mr. Max," Vera said. "And Mr. Loughtner, you've raised a valid point. When almost any new technology emerges, someone will find a way to use it to harm others. It's always a possibility. But we have to weigh that risk against the gain. The Rejuvenators might be used to create the kind of nightmare factories you describe. And without strict regulation, I can see that scenario being very profitable for a company, sadly enough. But on the other hand, Rejuvenators will be used to save lives. We've asked ourself if we think the benefit outweighs the risk, and we think the answer is a very solid yes."

Kenny scowled. He wasn't quite convinced, but he had to admit she had a point. He thought about car accidents and plane crashes, and how many people they'd killed. Would the world have been better off if cars and planes had been banned? Obviously not. But this Rejuvenator machine had power over life and death. Literally. Kenny didn't know if he trusted that people in general were good enough to use it well.

Vera glanced at the clock. "We've still got time for some more questions, but free period before lunch is coming up soon. You can relax or get some exercise, or you can check the bulletin board outside your bunkhouses to see what activities are going on. The computer room will be open too. Remember; you can always ask a GPA member to tell you where something is. Oh, and if you're still interested in the Rejuvenator, I'll be here for a while and we can talk more. Or you can visit Mr. Ravensfire."

Tycho slowly put his hand up.


The white-furred gerbil stared for a long time at his lap, methodically licking his lips, before he managed to convince himself to speak. "I think I've heard enough."

She tilted her head. "What do you mean?"

Tycho was clearly wrestling with something deep inside him. His hands moved over each other compulsively. "I've listened to everything you've said about the Rejuvenator and..." He finally looked up into the vixen's eyes. "I don't care about your new world order. I don't know if I even believe anything else you've said. But that machine... I'm looking right at it and I saw with my own eyes what it does. It's more important than anything else. If you have another of those armbands, I will join your army and do whatever you tell me to, so long as you promise me it will get those machines distributed around the world and I can know I'm helping save people's lives."

He had spoken softly, but with a determination that awed her. Vera was nearly moved to tears. "I have plenty of armbands, Tycho. And I can make that promise right here and now."

He stood up, walked to her, and held out his hand. "Okay then."

She shook.

"I don't want to move out of the bunkhouse and leave my friends though," the gerbil added firmly. "I want to stay with them, and stay in your class, and hear you tell me exactly what the hell I just got myself into."

Vera smiled. "I hope I don't disappoint you. Welcome aboard, Private Tycho Max."

'And another one down...' Cody thought to himself.


Chapter 5